Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vintage piece of mining equipment at Calico to be restored

1870-vintage stamp mill crushed ore during silver rush

This stamp mill crushed ore to help extract the precious metals within during the silver rush era in the 19th century. Calico blacksmith Klaus Duebbert is currently restoring the mill for future operation at Calico Ghost Town. (Photo Courtesy Klaus Duebbert)

Desert Dispatch

CALICO • The sounds of a 500-pound hammer crushing ore will echo through Calico for the first time in more than 100 years, as an 1870 vintage stamp mill found at the silver rush-era ghost town is currently under restoration.

Calico blacksmith Klaus Duebbert found the mill in storage at the base of the ghost town parking lot three years ago, but was spurred to restore it after hearing and seeing a working stamp mill restored by a friend in Big Bear.

“When I saw that mill in Big Bear I knew I needed to restore it,” said Duebbert, who said he is a 17th-generation blacksmith.

Duebbert said the stamp mill is like “an automatic 500 pound hammer on steroids” and produces a unique crushing sound. Stamp mills were used to pulverize ore from mines to aid in extracting silver and other precious metals.

The mills were moved from mine to mine during different “rushes” and Duebbert said the stamp mill that he is restoring could have been used at six or more mines, with the mill’s last use likely occurring during the 1930s or 40s. Duebbert said he didn’t know if the mill was ever used at Calico, but has been in storage there for some time.

The restoration of the mill will cost an estimated $7,000, and Duebbert has already raised half through monetary donations and in-kind donations.

Duebbert said the mill was 90 percent complete when he found it, and missing parts had to be built or found elsewhere. The restoration is halfway done, and the remainder of the work involves building a gear reducer, replacing all of the wood and installing belts.

Although he lives in Banning, Duebbert has been Calico’s official blacksmith for 14 years. Duebbert said he hopes to have the stamp mill finished and operational for Calico’s spring music festival on May 7. When finished, the mill will be the third operational stamp mill in Southern California.

More than $20 million in silver was extracted from mines at Calico during 1881 and 1882, according to a San Bernardino County Parks release. When the price of silver fell, the of town of Calico lost its population and was left a “ghost town” by 1907.